Imagine it is the dead of night, you are fast asleep, and all of a sudden, you are shaken awake. The university needs your house, administrators will help you pack, and you must evacuate as quickly as possible.

For the residents of two Prospect Street houses, it is a distinct, albeit unlikely, possibility.

With the increase in pandemic disease threats in recent years, the university devised a detailed containment policy for dealing with the widespread and infectious diseases were they to strike Georgetown University. The plan centers around two houses – 3517 and 3519 Prospect St.

“These houses provide [the university] with a way to deal with a student at the beginning of a potential outbreak, but clearly the plan is not a solution to the more general outbreak, were it to happen,” James Welsh, the assistant vice president of student health, said. “It’s more about containing the first few cases.”

In order to be relocated to one of the houses, a student would have to be too contagious to live in a residence hall or apartment but not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital. During this month’s norovirus outbreak movement into the houses was not considered a possibility.

“Most likely, these houses, if ever used, would be used to isolate a sick individual or individuals,” Welsh said. “These students would not be those who were so sick that they’d need to stay in an intensive care unit.”

After years of conversation with the District of Columbia Department of Health about disease prevention and containment, the university and the DOH began formally discussing this containment plan about two years ago. According to Beverly Pritchett, the DOH’s senior deputy director of Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration, the plan arose because of Georgetown’s long-standing relationship with the DOH, which has developed over the years through yearly communication over health issues. Both school administrators and health officials recognized the threats pandemic diseases, such as pandemic influenza and SARS, could pose to a university, and so the DOH helped the university put a plan in place with the aid of a $5,000 grant.

According to Welsh, Georgetown then selected the particular residences, each of which houses five students under normal circumstances, because they have their own air-handling units, which keeps all air ventilation within the individual houses. Welsh added that this feature makes the houses suitable to contain the spread of viruses. With the DOH’s grant, Georgetown was able to purchase two additional portable air units to add to the pre-existing systems.

The November 2007 housing lottery was the first selection process in which the houses were formally designated as containment spots.

According to Jonalyn Ware Greene, the executive director of campus housing, 3517 and 3519 Prospect were the 21st and 46th picks in the 2007 selection. In 2006, however, the townhouses were the 12th and 10th picks. On their Web site all year long, the housing department warned prospective residents of the two houses they might have to relocate with little to no notice if a pandemic disease broke out on campus. The housing department also specifically notifies groups of the possibility of relocation for these two houses during the housing selection process.

“All of the people in our group thought the chances of a quarantine were very small,” Mark Valtierra (SFS ’10), a resident of 3517 Prospect St., said. “The house usually goes by pick 10 but we managed to get it by pick 21.”

Joe Silvestri (NHS ’10), who lives with Valtierra, did not realize the house was designated as an isolation spot until a roommate informed him at move-in. Still, he said, he was not very concerned with the possibility of a pandemic outbreak.

“I don’t think anything would happen where our house would be called into action,” he said. “Norovirus was one thing, but unless polio makes a comeback, I think we’ll be ok.”

Echoing Silvestri’s sentiment, Welsh emphasized the improbability of ever having to implement the containment plan.

“The plan is here to provide us with a little bit of flexibility, but in reality it is very, very unlikely that the houses will ever have to be used,” he said.

Although Welsh said that the likelihood of the containment plan being implemented is improbable, as of now, the university has no plans of discontinuing it.

If the residents of the quarantine houses were ejected from their house, Greene said they would be placed in a temporary residence.

“We would place [the students] in vacancies that we had available at the time of the incident, should one occur,” Greene said.

Valtierra said that the university told him that if the residents of 3517 or 3519 were forced to move out, university representatives would help the students pack and move their belongings to their temporary residences.

Welsh said the university would only implement the plan upon consultation with the DOH. He added the plan arose out of a desire for preparedness, not out of necessity. By formally outlining such a detailed plan, Georgetown became the only known school to implement such a concrete relocation and containment plan, according to Welsh and the DOH.

ost universities with pandemic disease containment plans have followed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have formed pandemic flu response teams. Yet most universities move directly to the evacuation and treatment parts of the plan, leaving the containment effort to be determined at a later date. The University of Virginia’s Web site states that, upon identifying the disease threat, the university would select buildings based on ventilation features as the containment spots.

Similarly, the University of Cincinnati would wait until identifying the disease’s presence before designating containment spots – selecting the residences based upon current vacancies rather than special features, such as the air units.

“Having such a detailed plan, despite the unlikelihood of a pandemic, is definitely the best course of action,” Pritchett said.

“In the event of a pandemic, you’ll have some notice, but not that much, so it’s good to have something to fall back on. Even if you have to make changes, having a specific course of action on paper really provides guidance for the best way to deal with a disease situation.”

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